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Clearing the Path to Better Relations With Pakistan

Ticker: Trucks to Afghanistan

By Katherine Brown

Going into the NATO Summit this weekend, the U.S. can celebrate some good news: Pakistan has reopened a route for the first time in six months that allowed containers of  supplies for the U.S. embassy in Kabul to pass through to Afghanistan. Pakistan closed all supply roads after U.S.-led airstrikes along the border killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers on Nov. 25, 2011. Before opening them, Pakistan wanted an apology from the U.S. for the attack that many Pakistanis saw as intentional.

Details of a deal to lift a blockade against NATO supplies passing through Pakistan roads are still being worked out, but an agreement seems imminent. Since November, supply trucks for the U.S. and NATO missions have had to take a circuitous northern route to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia, which cost 2.5 times more than just going through Pakistan.

The agreement will likely come without an official U.S. apology. While Bloomberg View supported the idea of the U.S. secretary of Defense making one, the closest the U.S. came was the Pentagon's Dec. 22 statement that expressed its "deepest regret" and "sincere condolences" over the killings. Whether or not the U.S. should apologize, the Wall Street Journal reported today, is something that tormented the Obama administration: Some diplomats said it would help mend relations; other policymakers felt it would show weakness. (The debate was complicated by a political environment in which Republicans are eager to label President Barack Obama as an apologist.)

The attack roiled Pakistan's parliament, adding to frustration over U.S. use of drones and covert activity in the country. In April, it passed resolutions aimed at limiting such U.S. activity.

While NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made it sound as if reopening the routes would be a condition for Pakistan's involvement in NATO's summit, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's spokesman stressed that it wasn't. But still, the final deal seems close. If it officially comes off, the U.S. and its NATO allies regain valuable supply routes during spring fighting season in Afghanistan, and Pakistan is, among other things, set to receive a payout of $1.3 billion for support funds the U.S. had withheld.

But while this is a relief, the U.S. should not forget the pain it took to get to this resolution, and the seemingly intractable animosity within the Pakistani populace. Repairing the relationship is good. Better yet would be for the U.S. to get to a point where it's no longer strategically essential.

(Katherine Brown is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial staff. Follow her on Twitter.)

For more quick commentary from Bloomberg View, go to The Ticker.

-0- May/18/2012 20:32 GMT

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